Choosing a rifle scope is not a child’s play. It depends primarily on your needs. Are you a recreational shooter? A hunter? A marine? No matter what you use it for, getting one out of thousands out in the market is no easy task. You will get overwhelmed by the different features they offer as well as the jargon that comes with it. But, why do we need it in the first place? If you want a more detailed guide, you should check out our comprehensive rifle scope guide.
Rifle or shooting scopes allows the shooter to see their targets clearer in order to have a more precise aim, no wonder they are used by a lot of people nowadays. So to help you get through the confusion, here is a guide that examines features of modern rifle scopes to help you have that ideal scope that fits your needs.
Reading Rifle Scope Specifications
Rifle scopes follow a standardized format which presents its magnification first then the diameter of the objective lens. They are separated by an “x”. The number for magnification lets you know the number of times larger the image becomes when it is viewed through the scope. The dash between two numbers indicates the range of magnification power. In a 3-9x32mm scope, 3-9x is the magnification power. You can adjust from a 3x magnification up to 9x or anywhere in between this range. The second value in the description (in the case of our example, 32mm!) is the diameter of the scope’s objective lens.
How much magnification do you really need? You have to determine this first before going to the other details because this establishes a scope’s usefulness. If you’re a bench shooter and you only have a 4x scope, don’t expect anything. That’s underequipped. And if you’re just hunting a deer with 32x scope, that’s being overequipped.
Optical power is subjective, but magnifications around 4-6x allows faster, better target tracking and more intuitive shooting. Sure, anything beyond 16x has a greater resolution, but it is also heavier and larger. It is also more expensive and well, very difficult to use if unsupported.
If you are going offhand shooting or just shooting at a distance lesser than 500 yards, then settle for a scope lower than 10x. But if you prefer to have one higher than 10x, then you should fire from a supported position like using a bipod or sandbags. There are also variable scopes that have much increased flexibility and utility which I highly recommend. These variable scopes provide us a wide range of magnifications which we can select from depending on the situation. The only drawback here is the cost: they are more expensive.
After settling in on the magnification power you needed, next is to determine the size of the objective lens.
The objective lens transmits ambient light and focuses it on the image, giving you a bright and clearer image. There is a simple rule here: the larger the size of the objective lens, the more light it can transmit, the brighter and clearer your image will be.You can observe that larger objective lenses are used to accompany high magnification ranges. After all, you can’t see much difference under low magnification. For example, between 40mm and 50mm objective lenses, you can only see and appreciate the difference at magnifications higher than 12x.
Yes, you can have a brighter and clearer picture with larger objective lenses. So, are you going to buy one now? Think about its downsides first. If you have a larger objective lens, isn’t it required to mount it higher over the barrel and action? Yes, it is. And if you do, maintaining a proper cheek weld becomes an issue for it can affect your shooting ability. “I’ll just buy a cheek-riser, then.” Go ahead. But it won’t fix the issue regarding the size of your scope. It is commonsense that a larger objective lens would be heavier and bulkier, affecting your rifle’s balance.
Reticles are the crosshairs you are looking through on the scope and nowadays, there are dozens and dozens of patterns to choose from. You can have simple center dots or complex grid patterns if you want. But I’ll introduce you to the three common types:
- Duplex – this is the most common type of reticle pattern. Having a thin center crosshair that gets thicker at the outer area of your scope, duplex reticle is usually that one pattern that pops up when you imagine looking through a scope. It focuses the eye towards the center of the scope and for instances that the thin center crosshair isn’t visible, the thicker outer bars can aid you. This type of reticle is best for target shooting and hunting.
- Mil dot reticle – This pattern is based on the duplex reticle, but equipped with powerful enhancements. It has the ability to use it in determining a target’s range where the size of the target is unknown as well as the ability to make fast and intuitive wind and elevation adjustments – this is where the power of the mil dot reticle comes from. After all, it has dots with size and spacing along its reticle lines that correspond to specific angles which are measured in meridians. If you are shooting beyond 300 yards, I recommend this reticle pattern to you as it retains intuitive focus along with the ability to let the shooter perform range calculation.
- BDC reticle – BDC or Bullet Drop Compensator allows accurate shooting at different target ranges without the need to make adjustments on your scope’s elevation setting. This is because of the several aiming points in the reticle pattern that can be used on different distances of the target. However, despite they offer a lot of utility, they are only moderately accurate if the range is higher than 500 yards (even if you use the specific load that this reticle is calibrated for). If you have an AR-15 or something similar, then I recommend this type for you.
Other types of reticles
- MOA and MRAD – Once you know the magnification and reticle you want,you can choose how to adjust your scope next. There are two measurement systems for this: MOA and MRAD.
MOA or Minute of Angle is the most common one and it technically means 1/60th of an angular degree. However, it is commonly associated with linear inches because 1 MOA corresponds to an inch at a 100-yard distance. MOA adjustment increments are smaller and are typically 1/4 inch at 100 yards and could even be half as that in some instances. If you want to have a precise zero capability at long ranges, then this is best for you although calculating adjustments become more complex for ranges over 100 yards. MOA works best when paired with a BDC or duplex reticle.
MRAD or Milradian means 1/1000th of a radian. Its measurement of 1 milradian of about 3.6 inches at 100 yards is a bit awkward, but it does lead to simpler adjustments. If you see through the scope that the bullet has impacted about 1.2 mils below your center crosshair, you can adjust 1.2 mils upwards and already be on the target. The same process works the same no matter what the range. The downside for this one though is that calculating adjustments become harder at ranges over 328 yards.
There are also things like Parallax and Focal Plane to be considered if you want to be more specific about your rifle scope. However, the most important aspect to be considered is paying out.
Let’s say you already know what you want in a rifle scope and you have some scopes in mind to check out. Now, you make sure that it fits your budget. Rifle scopes can be cheap and expensive, but note that cheap ones aren’t worth the money after all. There are also rifle scopes under $200 that work great. When you look for a rifle scope, first consider looking at price ranges that get in your budget then look at the features. If you can spend more bucks for a more expensive one, then that’s good too. After all, rifle scopes are great investments.
After you’ve bought your Rifle Scope we recommend that the first you do is to check out our guide on how to sight-in your rifle scope.